“YOU’VE MADE ME CRY!”
AHEAD OF THE PROJECT CELEBRATING ITS 2000th EPISODE THIS WEEK, WALEED ALY INTERVIEWS CARRIE BICKMORE FOR STELLAR
Family, fame and staying authentic in the clickbait age were on the agenda when Waleed Aly interviewed his The Project co-host Carrie Bickmore.
They sit next to one another every night while cohosting The Project, but the mood was different when Carrie Bickmore and Waleed Aly sat down for Stellar on a sunny morning in Melbourne. Facing one another while reclining on a nondescript sofa inside the building where their show is filmed, Bickmore admitted to feeling uncharacteristically nervous at the thought of being quizzed by her colleague. As for Aly, despite having interrogated hundreds of people in the course of his day job, Stellar’s request for him to interview Bickmore also proved to be an unusual experience. As both were soon to discover, even when you know the person opposite you so well, there’s something about the process of a formal interview that can unearth unexpected truths.
Waleed Aly: Bickmore, is it? Carrie Bickmore: [Laughs.] You can call me Carrie. WA: One “o” or two? So, we’re about to hit 2000 episodes, have you watched episode one [which went to air in July 2009]? CB: Not for a long time, I watched it very soon after it happened. WA: That doesn’t count. CB: I’m not very good at watching myself back or hearing myself back. WA: Do you remember it? CB: It came and went in a massive blur, a fearful, panicky blur [laughs]. I will never forget [former co-host] Dave Hughes saying after that first episode, “I think I just ended my career.” I remember thinking if Dave Hughes is saying that, and he was really good, what have I got? WA: Is it fair to say at that point there is no way you could have conceived of us sitting here having this conversation? CB: No, at the time I remember feeling like I believed that we could make this work, but I wasn’t sure we were going to be given the time or the luxury of finding our feet. I am still so thankful, and I still think every year the show changes; it evolves and it grows. I couldn’t have anticipated it to be the way it is now. I couldn’t have anticipated I’d be sitting next to you on the desk. WA: Neither could I. It’s interesting what you say about The Project having time to find its feet – do you think it would have been given that time if it was starting now, because the world has sped up? CB: The world has sped up. I think the world of social media and clickbait and all of that has made everything faster and more reactive and, yeah, I wonder whether we’d have had the chance to make the mistakes we made and grow in the way we did in those first few months. WA: So, I wonder, because I feel like I just got here really, do you find that the job gets harder the longer you do it, or easier? CB: Some elements of it get easier, some elements I do with my eyes closed and I don’t even notice I’m doing them, but there are parts of the job that weren’t there in the beginning that are there now that perhaps I don’t feel as capable of traversing. I know when I speak to friends in the industry that we’re all trying to navigate this new space, and I often hear the same familiar conversation around people second- guessing what they say, because they’re worried it might be taken out of context, or worried people will never see what actually happened during a conversation or what the full article was about, and all they will ever read is the headline and then that might be damaging. WA: Do you think it’s a worry in that it’s going to become impossible for people to be authentic on TV? CB: Yeah, I think it takes a lot of guts. Every day I keep thinking to myself, “Just do what you do and be yourself, and that’s all you can do.” And it’s hard; sometimes you think is it just easier to say what everyone wants to hear? But you have to be true to yourself and say what you think. WA: We do a similar job, but I can never be in your shoes because you are a woman on television and I don’t know what that’s like. What is it that I don’t understand about what it’s like to be a woman on Australian TV? CB: I think the job you’re doing, being who you are on TV, is far trickier than the job that I have to do and being who I am on TV, personally. WA: We can compare notes. CB: [Laughs.] I think they both come with different challenges. [Pauses.] I don’t know, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it… One of the questions I get asked a lot, and I wonder if you get asked it, is any woman doing a job that takes a lot of their time and energy and commitment will get asked about how they do that and have a family, and the challenges that come with that. It’s strange because you probably expect me to answer with all the difficulties of being a woman from a gender perspective in the industry, but one of the hardest things I find for me is trying to do a good job of my job at work and do a good job of my job at home. And before everyone starts screaming “being a mother isn’t a job, it’s a gift”, I know all of that… WA: But it’s work… CB: And there are elements of it you have to get through and get done, and I think that depending on what day you ask me depends on how well I’m doing either of those jobs. Sometimes I do one job better than I do the other. Like if you ask me today, I would say that right now, all morning, I have had a pain in the pit of my stomach and I just want to be at home playing with [two-year-old daughter] Evie, and I’ve just got this overwhelming feeling that I want to be at home and be with her – as much as I’m enjoying being here with you [laughs]. But if you ask me tomorrow, [I may] feel like I can conquer the world and that I’m nailing everything and I’m on fire. I think for me, working is incredibly important and trying to get the balance right every day is tricky. Some days I do it better than others. WA: I know what you mean, because I find it really hard saying no, and my wife would always say to me, “Just remember when you say yes to them, you’re saying no to us,” and that would hurt. CB: And that’s the thing – it does. I look at you, you’ve got two kids, and you do the exact same thing. I hear you talk about the kids and you might have been away for three days and you haven’t seen them, it’s the exact same juggle. WA: It is. Why is it easier for us to say no to our families than to strangers who ask us to do things? Why is that? CB: Because your family knows you and they know where your motivation comes from and they know your heart, whereas strangers don’t. So I think you feel like their first gut [instinct] is going to be that you’re not a nice person or that you don’t care about them and all those
things, which you hope that your family understands you do feel about them. WA: Maybe their understanding of you kind of lets you take them for granted a bit. CB: Maybe. WA: That’s a scary thought. CB: I’m very, very – more than I ever have been – aware of my time with my family, and I realise for my own mental health I have to have it or my life is out of whack. This is going to sound really creepy, but I’ll often be driving to work and I’ll look at a mum next to me in her car with an empty baby seat or an empty car seat in the back and I’ll look at her and I’ll be like, “I wonder if she’s got the same pain in the pit of her stomach that I have right now?” Or, “I wonder if she’s excited about the work she’s going to or if she’s stressed about whether she’s going to be on time picking up her kids?” I think about all the things that are running through her head. And the only thing that gives me solace is that I know I’m not alone in feeling that. WA: You started this job as a woman in your 20s, you’re now in your 30s, and you’ve had children along the way. Since I started working with you, you’ve had a child and raised a million dollars for brain cancer, so that’s a busy couple of years. CB: [Laughs.] I do feel I have packed a lot into my life in a short time. WA: How different of a person are you now? CB: Oh, hugely different. WA: In what way? CB: I’m just growing; I’m maturing and growing up, but I happen to be doing it at the same time as being on television, so everyone’s watching that. But I think I feel like, more and more, I’m getting to know who I am, what I stand for, what I like and what I don’t like, and I’m also probably becoming [pauses] more reflective… WA: Reflective is not good for commercial TV, you know that. CB: And that’s the thing. So, my opinions on some things… I thought you were supposed to become more certain about how you felt about things and become firmer in your beliefs the older you get, but I feel like I’m going the other way. The way I feel about things is changing. I’ll have a view about something and then I’ll meet somebody who’s gone through it or I’ll read an article about it and get a deeper understanding, and I change my view.
``not everybody is going to agree with me or like who I am or what I stand for´´
WA: The paradox I find of our jobs is that it doesn’t tolerate doubt very well. It’s hard to express doubt in a commercial TV format without it becoming really boring. CB: The tricky thing about being in the public spotlight and voicing an opinion on one thing, and then two years later your opinion is the complete opposite, is that there is a record there [about what] you said two years ago, so how can you say that now? And that’s the thing I think would have concerned me more when I was younger; now I’m OK changing my mind. WA: This is interesting – do you think you care less about what people think about you now than you used to? CB: Do you want my honest answer? [Laughs.] WA: I want the honest answer. CB: No, I’m someone who cares what people think about me. Of course I am. But, yes you’re right, the older I’m getting and the more I realise what’s important to me and what matters to me and who I want to be, the more comfortable I am that not everybody is going to agree with me or like who I am or what I stand for. WA: I have to ask you about your Logies speech [when Bickmore won the Gold Logie in 2015]. I had never been to the Logies before then and I remember that moment watching you onstage in what was typically a glamorous dress wearing a decidedly unglamorous beanie on your head. And I knew at that moment, as soon as you put that beanie on, I was like OK, this is a historic moment. CB: It has taken too long for me to be interviewed by you and tell me all these lovely things [laughs]. WA: But I also know that moment almost never happened and that it was a difficult thing for you to do, because talking about brain cancer [which claimed the life of Carrie’s husband, Greg Lange, in 2010] was not something you had been doing publicly a great deal before that. CB: To be honest, when you’re going through something, I was 21 when Greg was diagnosed with brain cancer and I had to grow up really, really, really quickly, just more in a practical sense, and it was just a lot of things going on at the time that meant we didn’t have a lot of time to reflect. It wasn’t until Greg had passed away that I had a chance to maybe reflect on what had happened and what we had been going through. It was only in reflection that I then had this growing desire to want to do something and to make sure no other family had to go through that. But I’ve always had this feeling that Greg, Ollie, my family, Greg’s family, [they] didn’t choose the career path that I did. I chose that, right? Everything I do, I do with them in mind. Every time I speak about him, every time I speak about brain cancer, I do it with them in mind. I think for so long I wanted to make sure that I preserve that intensely private, absolutely devastating journey for everybody, but then I realised that I was in this situation where I could also raise a lot of awareness, [and] a lot of money that, in turn, could mean other families like mine may not have to one day go through that. WA: Is there part of you that looks forward to a day when you never get asked about this again? CB: Well, I’m happy for that day to come when they find a cure and no one is ever having to go through that, but until then, no I understand that it’s my story and my life. If you’d asked me as a little girl what I thought my life would be like, I would never have thought [starts to cry], I would never have thought it would be anything that it has been. [Pauses and stares at the ceiling for a moment before looking back at Aly.] You’ve made me bloody cry. WA: I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to. [Looks genuinely pained.] CB: I don’t spend too much time reflecting on it; it makes me upset. It has certainly not been the life I thought, but there are so many good things I got out of it. I know nobody’s life is perfect, and that’s the great thing about the job I get to do because I meet people in all circumstances and all situations and I see that everybody is carrying something – and the more we can do it together, the better. WA: Well, let me bring this back… CB: I didn’t realise you were going to make me cry! [Laughs.]
WA: Honestly, sorry, I didn’t mean to. One of the first things I noticed when I first started working here is I reckon 80 per cent of your contribution to the show happens off-camera and people don’t understand that. One of the first things I noticed was that you had this immediate, really piercingly insightful way of understanding the audience. I saw you re-order entire segments… CB: I piss people off, is that what you’re saying? [Laughs.] WA: Not me, because I didn’t have to produce it. I have seen you sit down and discuss an interview we were doing and make two or three comments and suddenly the whole thing has changed. And I never could have seen that, but you are able to see it. Is there something about your life where your personality allows you to stand in for the audience in that way?
CB: I don’t think I always get it right, I don’t think I can ever fully understand or anticipate or get right what everyone at home is thinking or feeling. But I do definitely think that with everything I do: do people at home care? Are my friends and family going to care about this? I think it maybe comes back to the fact I never got into this job to, quite seriously, never for it to be about me. I still find it incredibly hard to read articles about myself – to even be in the news myself. I completely understand that it’s part of the job and the gig, but that was never my motivation. My motivation was always to share information, stories and be the middleman for information. I just want people to enjoy what they are watching and get something out of it at home. If I can do that, that is my main aim. WA: I want that too, but I’m buggered if I know how [laughs]. CB: The day people stop enjoying what they’re watching is the day that I lose my job. Carrie and Waleed co-host The Project, 6.30pm weeknights, on Network Ten.